2015 NL West Preview

Adrian Gonzales and the Los Angeles Dodgers plan on another division title. Photo Courtesy: Bob James
Adrian Gonzalez and the Los Angeles Dodgers plan on another division title.
Photo Courtesy: Bob James

By Michael Hanley

Baseball is nearing its return, time for a rundown of the NL West for 2015. I am listing these previews on how I predict each team will finish in the division. First game is this Sunday between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs at 7:00 pm CST on ESPN2.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Change would be the single word that could best sum up the Dodgers off season. The new regime under the watch of Andrew Friedman has reshaped and molded this roster to more of what his and the management’s vision of them are. The flurry of activity was early and often as they swung deal after deal, getting returns in just about every trade they made.

Friedman, and the GM he hired in Farhan Zaidi, started the offseason by letting go of very talented but often injured Hanley Ramirez and using the savings from his contract coming off the books to retool their infield. The first step they took in that initiative was to acquire Jimmy Rollins from the Phillies. Rollins, a veteran of the game, has always been known for his great infield defensive play and ability to set the table at the top of  a lineup. He should be able to seal up this infield for LA and make it a strength of the team this season.

The Dodgers then decided to send Dee Gordon away to the Marlins. They netted Andrew Heaney in return who they used to flip and get Howie Kendrick from the Angels. Kendrick is another veteran player who will be a big plus for this team with his ability to play solid, fundamental defense with his glove and give some consistent offense to this lineup.

The biggest trade of them all this off season was sending a homegrown star and face of the franchise type of player in Matt Kemp, who went down the coast to San Diego and joined the Padres. In return, LA was able to secure the services of a new starting catcher in Yasmani Grandal who should be durable enough to make it through the long and arduous regular season of baseball.

Los Angeles also went out and spent on improving the back end of their starting rotation. They took a gamble on Brandon McCarthy by giving him a four year, $48 million deal, hoping he can stay healthy and productive for the duration of that deal. They also signed former Oakland A’s starter Brett Anderson to a one year deal worth $10 million. They even reached out and have afforded a rehabbing Brandon Beachy  a chance to reclaim his career on a one year deal worth $2.75 million deal.

All these moves were added to what was a pretty solid and very talented core they had in place. You start with the starting pitching featuring the best pitcher in all of baseball in Clayton Kershaw who looks to continue his dominance of the sport this season. Yes people will point to his lack of playoff success as some sort of flaw but that question cannot be answered until he is back in that arena again.

Zack Greinke is coming off another tremendous season in Dodger blue and there are no signs that he will be slowing down anytime this upcoming season. Hyun-Jin Ryu is also a pitcher who ever since coming to the United States has been nothing short of successful and dependable in the Dodger rotation. Injury did slow him down a bit last season but now fully healthy, he should be able to compliment Kershaw and Greinke perfectly as one of, if not the toughest trios at the top of a rotation in all of baseball.

The lineup will have a different look with the departures of Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp but it still features plenty of talent and power with the likes of Yasiel Puig and Adrian Gonzalez now being the main players in the batting order. Puig has had a great offseason and has taken that over to spring training where all the reports have been positive and encouraging.

He must be able to step up and be a bigger, more consistent presence in this lineup in order for the Dodgers to have an offense that can compliment and help what should be a very sharp and lethal starting rotation. Gonzalez will bring his usual high level bat and the production with it to the middle of the lineup.

The bullpen should be able to sort itself out and be a reliable unit to get through the tight games that will dot the season for LA. Though their closer Kenley Jansen will be out for the first month after having foot surgery to remove a growth in his left foot, Dodgers have enough options to get through that first month without him.

This is setup for another season where the Dodgers, if they stay healthy, have no one to really prevent them from winning another NL West division crown.

San Francisco Giants
The defending World Series champions had a busy offseason after capturing their third championship in five years. They lost their homegrown superstar in Pablo Sandoval, who left the bay area to sign a 5-year, $95 million deal with the Boston Red Sox.

Some people thought that with the savings from letting Sandoval go that the team would go out and make a splashy big free agent signing to replace the bat and power Sandoval had and provided for the franchise and lineup for all these years. That did not happen and it should not be a surprise. Giants GM Brian Sabean has never been one to make bold and flashy moves just for the sake of doing so. He is very calculated and measured in how he approaches the offseason slate.

When he has a great core of guys that has won and been a part of championship teams like he has now, he will keep them together for as long as possible and that is what he has done. He resigned key pieces such as Sergio Romo, Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong, added an outfielder from the Royals in Nori Aoki and signed Casey McGehee from the Marlins to complete the offseason additions.

The starting rotation is one full of veterans who have proven to be brilliant in the past but are question marks to start off this season. Madison Bumgardner had a brilliant season and postseason last year, but threw a total of 270 innings combined last season which might raise some concern on how he will get through this season. If he does not show any fatigue from last year’s workload, expect another terrific season out of him as the ace of this staff.

Tim Hudson is 39 and coming off surgery to remove bone spurs from his right ankle. Lincecum is in the rotation despite having a now sub par last three seasons in it. Peavy is fully healthy and should be able to put a solid season together in a pitcher friendly park. The concern always with him will be can he avoid those injuries that have troubled him in the past.

The bullpen looks to be in fine shape as they have the likes of Romo, Casilla, Affeldt, Lopez and Machi to get them through the late innings and close games out. Look for this group to once again be one of the best bullpens in all of baseball.

The lineup has questions as well outside of Buster Posey. It is difficult to replace the bat of Sandoval, so the Giants are hoping that guys injured last year such as Angel Pagan and Brandon Belt can help the lineup be able to manufacture runs this season, as the club is never known for its home run power in a very pitcher friendly ready park. Small ball will have to be the name of the game for this offense if it is to have any consistent results for itself and its pitching staff.

I predict the Giants will have enough to be able to make it through the season and a tougher division to capture a wildcard spot and make the postseason.

San Diego Padres
The Padres were one of the most active teams during this offseason as they made changes all throughout their roster. Starting with the hiring of new GM A.J Preller. This team has been starved for offense over the last couple of years, ranking low in the major leagues when it came to offensive categories such as runs scored, home runs hit etc. Preller made that a top priority to fix this offseason and did that in a big way. He acquired Matt Kemp from the Dodgers, Justin Upton from the Braves, Will Myers from the Rays and Derek Norris from the A’s to be the primary catcher for San Diego. This infusion of bats into the lineup should turn what was a dormant offense for the Padres into one that should be able to help this team contend for a playoff spot and be in the NL West division title race all season long.

Pitching has and continues to be the strength of this team and they enhanced that even more when they signed free agent pitcher James Shields to a four year, $75 million deal to be their ace in the starting rotation. Shields will fortify and make this starting five one that will help the team be in position to win a lot of games this season. Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner should all be able to put up quality seasons and be able to enjoy some consistent run support for the first time in years. The Padres are a trendy pick and while I do see improvement from last year, not enough to make postseason play.

Arizona Diamondbacks
The franchise hit rock bottom last season as they posted the worst record in all of baseball with a 64-98 record. Wholesale changes were made as soon as last September when manager Kirk Gibson and GM Kevin Towers were fired by newly hired chief of baseball operations Tony La Russa. La Russa was tasked with the job of taking this franchise out of its rut and putting it back on a path where it can start to build itself back up again to be a legitimate contender in the NL West and in the National League as a whole. He brought in a former pitcher of his in Dave Stewart as the new general manager and also brought in from the Dodgers as senior vice president of baseball operations.

This rebuilding process will take multiple years to really gain a foothold and show improving results. The team did little in this offseason outside of signing third baseman Yasmany Tomas, who received a six year, $68.5 million deal from Arizona to be their third baseman for the long term future. They did bring some arms in to compete for rotation spots but will be a big question otherwise until someone rises up and performs at a solid level. It will be Josh Collementer and everyone else for the time being. The lineup stayed pretty much the same, only now it has a 100% healthy Paul Goldschmidt to boast in the middle of the lineup. He should be able to have another terrific season like he was having last year before he suffered a broken hand in early August. The complimentary pieces will need to have to step up their level of play if this offense is to be consistently productive.

Colorado Rockies
Colorado is trying to come out of what was a disaster of a season last year, hoping for brighter days ahead. Last season the Rockies went 66-96 in which any and everything went south for the franchise. GM Dan O’Dowd stepped down after his long tenure in Colorado back in October. The club promoted senior director of player development Jeff Bridich to the post to see if he can turn around what has been a team that has fallen on hard times with four consecutive losing seasons.

What has and continues to be the clubs strength lies in their offense. The batting order will not see a lot of change from the one last season. You still have the two big sluggers in Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki who will supply the lion’s share of the runs generated for this roster this upcoming season.

If both remain healthy, they along with the surrounding cast could have a solid to great season in terms of being an offense that can be hard to limit for opposing pitching staffs. The bench is much the same from last season as well, no real changes made there at all. If they were to experience some injuries in the lineup then it could get dicey for them, but that is a big if as of right now.

As far as the rotation is concerned that still is a big question mark even after the horrific numbers and performance of it last season. Jorge De La Rosa will be the ace of this staff but the other spots in the rotation are subject to change and likely will as the organization gets to see what these starting pitchers can do in the first part of this new season and if they can perform well enough to stay in that rotation.

The Rockies were smart in bringing in other pitchers to have as depth right now and be go to guys should one of of the starters get hurt or just not perform to the team’s expectation. I cannot imagine that the staff as a whole could have a worse season than the last one. The only way from here is up for this group.

The bullpen also stood pat for the most part with exception of the addition of Hale from the Braves as their new long man in this bullpen. He posted very solid numbers in Atlanta as he posted a 3.30 ERA in 87 1/3 innings pitched for the Braves last season. He is a sinker ball pitcher who generates a lot of ground ball outs, which will be just what this staff will need to do in order to give themselves a chance to compete in each series they are in. Hale has a career 56.7% ground ball outs rate which is terrific to have and maintain for any pitcher. His ability to generate all those ground balls should be life for that very solid infield to make a lot of routine plays for outs.

This upcoming season will be one that might be marginally better for Colorado if things break right for them. They still have many holes to fill on their big league roster and in their farm system. Though they took some steps to start rehabilitating this franchise, their is a lot of work for GM Jeff Bridich and the front office to do if they are to emerge from this down period in the franchise’s history to even see a winning record again, let alone contend for a playoff berth.

2015 NL West Division Prediction
1) Los Angeles Dodgers (94-68)
2) San Francisco Giants (92-70)
3) San Diego Padres (89-73)
4) Arizona Diamondbacks (74-88)
5) Colorado Rockies (71-91)

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